Cocaine or cash? New study pays participants to quit using cocaine

ROANOKE, Va. – As the use of cocaine and overdose deaths continue to increase, researchers are exploring new approaches to help people grappling with cocaine use disorder. In a new study at Virginia Tech, researchers are testing the effectiveness of providing cash or other valuable incentives to people who achieve their treatment goals. The study revolves around the concept of reinforcer pathology, which proposes that individuals place a higher value on immediate rewards, such as the pleasurable effects of substances, rather than future rewards, such as a fulfilling career or a healthy family life.

“When people do drugs, we know they give up their jobs, relationships, family, even their lives, but when they receive several dollars for drug-free urine samples, they become powerful. What explains that? Their temporal horizon. I give you money for a clean urine sample and right away you turn it around. The drugs lose value,” Warren Bickel, a professor with the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC and director of the Addiction Recovery Research Center, said in a statement.

The Addiction Recovery Research Center is actively seeking adults who use cocaine to participate in their paid research study on decision-making. Selected participants will be required to visit the lab in Roanoke, Virginia, 13 times over a span of five weeks. During these visits, they will undergo MRI scans, report their cocaine use, complete computerized assessments, and provide urine samples.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, cocaine is involved in nearly one in five overdose deaths and nearly two percent of Americans reported cocaine use in 2020.

“Stimulants are coming back. Cocaine use and addiction has been rising for more than a decade with no robust treatment. We need some new ideas,” Bickel said.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse is helping to fund the study.